Questionable Claims for Berberine, Weight Loss Supplement


Advertisers are claiming that berberine (an over-the-counter herbal supplement) is “nature’s Ozempic for weight loss,” but there is not adequate data to support this claim. The main reason that we are being exposed to such heavy advertising for berberine now is that studies have shown that the newer prescription drugs (Ozempic, Wegovy and others) have been proven scientifically to help overweight people lose excess weight, at least temporarily. However, these prescription drugs are so expensive that most people cannot afford them. Ozempic costs about $900 per month. As soon as you stop taking the prescription drugs, you can expect to regain the lost weight.

Berberine Is Not Like the Prescription Drugs
The prescription weight-loss drugs contain Semaglutide, which has the same action in the body as the natural hormone called glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1). This hormone is released from your intestines after you eat to cause your pancreas to release insulin to lower blood sugar levels and make your stomach feel so full that you stop eating. Berberine does not raise GLP-1, but it has been shown to help the body respond to insulin to reduce high blood sugar levels (Int J Endocrinol, 2015;2015:905749).

Most of the data we have on berberine’s ability to help people lose weight has been from studies on animals (Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy, July 2020;127:110137). Berberine has not been shown to help people lose weight long-term. Taking 500 mg of berberine three times a day for 12 weeks helped people lose five pounds (Phytomedicine, July, 2012;19(10):861-867). Another study showed that berberine caused a four-pound weight loss in three months (Evid Based Complement Alternat Med, Mar 8, 2012;2012:696154).

Cautions about Berberine Supplements
• Nobody is protecting you to show that you are really receiving berberine as stated on the label. In 1994, U.S. Senators Harkin and Hatch got a law passed in Congress forbidding the Food and Drug Administration from regulating food, and all of these supplements are sold as foods. No one is checking to see what they actually contain.
• Berberine can cause diarrhea, which can lead to loss of fluid which would explain some of the reported weight loss while taking this product.
• Even if berberine helps you lose weight in the short term, you will not gain long-term weight control unless you follow all the rules for exercising regularly and make permanent dietary changes that avoid foods that contribute to weight gain.
• Repeatedly losing excess weight and then regaining it is more harmful than staying fat because every time you lose weight, you lose fat, muscle and bone. When you regain your lost weight, you gain only fat so you are fatter at the same weight.
• There is some data to show that berberine may help diabetics lower high blood sugar levels (Front Pharmacol, Apr 26, 2021;12:653887).

My Recommendations
Berberine is certainly not a cure to produce long-term weight loss, but if you want to take berberine supplements, you can do so because they are relatively safe. However, you should also start and maintain a supervised diet and exercise program, or you can harm yourself by regaining excess fat and suffering its consequences.
• Eat a plant-based diet with a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole (unground) grains, beans, seeds and nuts.
• Avoid sugar-added foods and drinks, and severely restrict refined carbohydrates such as foods made from flour (JAMA, Feb 18, 2018;319(7):667-679). Try Intermittent Fasting
• Check with your doctor to see if you are at risk for any of the serious conditions associated with obesity, such as heart disease, strokes or dementia.
• Get into a supervised regular exercise program.
• If you are extremely overweight, talk with your doctor about gastric bypass surgery or prescription drugs such as Ozempic or Wegovy.